To conclude the Evening Post’s week-long series on the changing face of the county’s high streets, CHARLOTTE WAREING and DAVID COATES talk to business leaders and town bosses about their visions for the future.
Getting back to basics will be the secret to Chorley’s growth over the coming years, town leaders say.
Bosses say they want to reduce the footprint of the town centre and focus small, independent retailers into a more compact space, surrounded by leisure, offices and housing.
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said: “I don’t see the future with the big retailers like Next, Marks and Spencer and Debenhams coming to Chorley. Brands like that aren’t opening new shops.
“But there is a demand for good, smaller, flexible shops, and we are trying to work around that.”
A new town centre team has been set up with the aim of bringing together council bosses, business leaders, traders and shoppers and combining views to create a more “unified” approach.
Coun Bradley said: “As part of the team we have done some work on what we have got and what we need. I think we need a mixture.
“I think we will see traders wanting smaller shops while they have their websites on the side. That way there is less risk for the shopkeeper – people want something they can afford.
“What we are trying to do in Chorley to satisfy that is to look at the town centre masterplan and create a smaller footprint with the town centre and the outer areas might be leisure, office or housing uses.
“I am quite confident. People talk about difficult times but there is a big demand for the right kind of shop unit and I think that will carry on.”
Malcolm Allen, chairman of Chorley Traders’ Alliance, and owner of Malcolm’s Musicland, on Chapel Street, said they need to bring the traditional market image back and give shoppers a clear idea of what they will be getting.
He said: “The council is now talking to us, and that is a really good thing.
“From the traders’ point of view, when the credit crunch started it was obvious that things were going to change.
“We need to change Chorley’s image back to being a market town, which is a consistently strong town centre with strong independent shops, and combine it with things like the history of Astley Hall.
“We have also got entertainment, like during our Christmas period with the Big Wheel. We need to get back to being a small market town.”
Town leaders in Leyland say they are seeing signs of growth as they pledge to push forward with regeneration plans.
As part of South Ribble Council’s budget they pledged cash for continued regeneration in Leyland town centre and said the would seize on people’s loyalty to their towns.
They also pledged to freeze car parking charges.
Coun Margaret Smith, leader of South Ribble Council, said: “93 per cent of the shops in Leyland are occupied and the market is 100 per cent occupied.
“On that basis, from a high street point of view, we are not in the same position as many other high streets where big chains have pulled out.
“In Leyland there tends to be more independent retailers and that has certainly helped us.
“We feel fairly optimistic that we can get the best out of what we’ve got and we think the shoots of growth are starting to show.”
Coun Smith said they working with other organisations, such as the Town Team set up on the back of Leyland’s Portas bid, and loyalty schemes were the way forward, together with seizing on Leyland’s history to make the town a ‘destination’.
They include the siting of a 1938 Leyland TL fire engine as a ‘gateway’ feature on land near junction 28 of the M6 towards the start of this year.
She said: “Every high street needs locals to shop locally.
“Loyal to Leyland has been very successful and people keep coming back for them.
“You can’t do anything in isolation nowadays. You have got to work with partners, and we are pretty good at doing that.
“We do get people involved and I think that is good for the community.”
Culture is at the heart of bringing shoppers back to Preston city centre.
Today city leaders have revealed they are drawing up plans to create an ‘experience’ to keep people in the city.
It comes at the end of a week where the Evening Post has looked at the challenges and opportunities facing Lancashire’s high street.
Tom Burns, the council’s cabinet member for culture, said he wanted culture to become a key building block to the regeneration of the city.
It is working up a cultural strategy to give Preston a better chance to unlock funding pots.
He said: “It is about looking at ways not only to bring people into Preston, it is about keeping them here, giving them a good experience and making them want to come back.
“These days, that has to be about more than just giving them shops to go in, people want an experience from a day’s shopping.
“Culture means different things to different people, we have to identify what it means to the kind of people who come to Preston and encourage that.”
He said he believed facilities like the Guild Hall had “a very big part” to play in the cultural offer of the city.
The authority has admitted it is looking at the financial state of the venue as it bids to cut costs.
Coun Burns said: “Culture, by its very nature, costs money to do effectively and the impact of that investment is difficult to quantify.
“It is not as simple as saying you can cut the Guild Hall and that will save money, because you might be losing money elsewhere.”
Andy Delaney, development director at property experts, Colliers International, said the retail success stories had leisure at the core of their offer.
He said: “Liverpool One and the Trafford Centre, for example, have 20 per cent of their offer as leisure because they know it prolongs people’s stay in an area.
“That is repeated all over the place and that is what town and city centres have to look at.”
Colliers is part of the Distressed Retail Property Taskforce, a body set up by the Government to breathe new life into the high street.
Ruth Heritage, the founder of Preston-based creative group, They Eat Culture, said the city had to be developed “with its own identity.”
It staged the Winter Weekender festival on the city’s Flag Market over the Christmas period.
She said: “I want to see a leader article in the New York Times by 2015 asking ‘is Preston the new Portland’ or whichever small city is deemed ‘cool’ by then.
“Preston has the potential to work through creative partnerships towards being a unique place with its individual landmark features such as the bus station, the covered markets, the Harris; develop great shopping through developing independent retail identities on the high street.
“Underpinning this should be access to a great cultural programme, which as we’ve seen in cultural hot spots across the globe, could reinvent Preston as a place to work, trade, create, live, and visit.”